On radio show, Christie says he knew nothing of bridge plan

Gov. Christie took one the host's question on the scandal on NJ 101.5's "Ask the Governor" program, then spoke on other topics.
Gov. Christie took one the host's question on the scandal on NJ 101.5's "Ask the Governor" program, then spoke on other topics. (MEL EVANS / AP)
Posted: February 05, 2014

In his first detailed public comments in more than three weeks about the scandal that has engulfed his administration, Gov. Christie repeated Monday that he knew nothing of a plan to jam traffic at the George Washington Bridge in September and said he did not know lanes had been closed until reading news accounts in early October.

"Nobody has said that I knew anything about this before it happened," Christie said on NJ 101.5's hour-long Ask the Governor program. "I think that's the most important question."

Addressing the controversy with host Eric Scott, Christie made his comments three days after the lawyer for a former official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who oversaw the lane closures contended that "evidence exists" that Christie knew about the closures while they were happening.

Questions about when he knew what are "just a game of gotcha," Christie said Monday.

Asked by Scott to respond to claims about David Wildstein's knowledge of the lane closures, Christie said "the first time this really came into my consciousness as an issue" was after the Wall Street Journal reported last Oct. 1 that Patrick Foye, the Port Authority's executive director, had sharply criticized the closures.

The Bergen Record had reported on the traffic created by the closures on Sept. 13 - the morning Foye ordered the lanes reopened. But before the Journal's report, Christie said, "it wouldn't have been meaningful to me" if someone had mentioned the traffic to him.

"I've been very clear about this," Christie said. "I didn't plan it, I didn't authorize it, I didn't approve it. I knew nothing about it."

The remarks - followed by a series of mostly unrelated calls from listeners - were Christie's first extensive comments on the controversy since a two-hour news conference Jan. 9, when the governor announced the firing of a top aide and a political adviser implicated in an apparent plot to create gridlock in Fort Lee by closing access lanes to the bridge. Some have alleged the lanes were closed as political payback to the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, who did not endorse Christie's campaign for reelection.

With lawmakers and federal prosecutors probing the closure, Christie said Monday his office had received a subpoena from the U.S. Attorney's Office and was complying with the request.

Federal prosecutors are apparently also looking into allegations that Christie officials tied Hurricane Sandy aid to a redevelopment deal in Hoboken. Christie aides have denied those claims; the governor did not field questions on the topic Monday.

Christie said his office was also moving forward with an internal investigation into the lane closures led by an outside law firm.

"Here's what I'm curious about. I'm curious about what happened here," Christie said.

After the Journal's report on Foye's reaction, Christie said, he directed his staff to "go find out what's going on at the Port Authority." He said he was told that the closures were a traffic study - an explanation his appointee at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, gave lawmakers; other Port Authority officials told lawmakers they were unaware of a study. Baroni and Wildstein resigned in December.

"That's what we've been told all along," Christie said. "I still don't know whether there was a traffic study."

If it is revealed that any other staffers lied about the lane closures, Christie said, "they'll be fired."

Christie fired deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly after it was revealed she sent Wildstein an e-mail in August that read, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

Kelly was one of 20 people and organizations - including Christie's reelection campaign - issued subpoenas last month by lawmakers. One aide who received a subpoena and had worked under Kelly, Christina Renna, resigned Friday, saying she had considered leaving since Christie's reelection.

The subpoena responses were due Monday, though lawmakers said they granted numerous extensions.

A source familiar with the legislative probe confirmed Monday that Kelly had invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and would not comply with the subpoena.

In a statement Monday, the co-chairs of the special panel, Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski (D., Middlesex) and Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen) said they were reviewing a letter from Kelly's attorney and considering legal options "with respect to enforcing the subpoena."

The adviser dismissed by Christie, Bill Stepien, has also invoked the Fifth Amendment.

Wildstein - who under subpoena gave lawmakers the documents implicating Kelly and Stepien - refused to testify last month before a legislative panel but has indicated he will talk if granted immunity by federal prosecutors.

In a letter Friday asking the Port Authority to cover Wildstein's legal fees, attorney Alan Zegas said "evidence exists . . . tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge" of the lane closures while they were happening. Zegas has not said what the evidence is or whether he has it.

Christie's office fired back Saturday, accusing Wildstein - who attended high school with the governor and was hired at the Port Authority with his approval - of being willing "to do and say anything to save David Wildstein."

On Monday, Christie's office unleashed a new attack on the New York Times, which first reported the letter from Zegas. An initial Times story online reported that Wildstein had evidence that Christie knew of the lane closures while they were happening; the story was updated to say "evidence existed," without a correction or clarification noted.

A document circulated by Christie's office pointed to the conclusion by the Times' public editor that the change "was more than a nuance" and warranted notice to readers.

A Times spokeswoman said Saturday that the paper regularly updates online stories for clarity and does not note changes "unless it involves an error."

mhanna@phillynews.com609-989-8990 @maddiehanna

Inquirer staff writer Andrew Seidman contributed to this article.

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